14 September 2005

The Nuclear Waste Status Quo

Those who criticize new nuclear waste dumps are implicitly arguing for the status quo. If you live downriver from Moab, Utah, the status quo is pretty frightening.

There are 12 million tons of radioactive wastes on the banks of the Colorado River, which provides drinking water for more than 25 million people.

The 94-foot-tall pile of uranium tailings - radioactive material leftover from uranium mining - is located three miles northwest of the city of Moab in Grand County, Utah. . . . The threat of the tailings leaching into the Colorado River was heightened by January flooding in southern Utah.

Moab's rich uranium deposits were mined in the 1950s for nuclear bombs. The Uranium Reduction Co. sold its mill in 1962 to Atlas Corp., which ran it sporadically until declaring bankruptcy in 1998. The Energy Department took over the site in 2001. The Moab Project Site covers about 400 acres and includes a 130-acre uranium mill tailings pile that occupies much of the western portion.

The current plan calls for the waste to be moved, mostly by rail, to a temporary spot 30 miles from the Colorado River until a longer term solution can be found. The big point is that the status quo is a real problem. The nuclear waste option to be frightened of isn't a storage site that may have a problem in 1,000 years instead of 10,000 years. It is the existing storage sites that could be a problem far sooner.

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